CORAL GABLES — Duke Johnson has always had the flash.
A 5-star recruit, the speedy Johnson rushed for 1,957 yards and scored 36 total touchdowns during his senior season at Miami Norland en route to a Class 5A state championship in 2011.
The explosive University of Miami running back/kick returner then posted arguably the greatest freshman season in school history in 2012, before backing that up by averaging 174.1 all-purpose yards a season ago until a fractured ankle at Florida State ended his year prematurely in Week 8.
This season, the healthy, 5-foot-9 Johnson has added yet another dimension to his game: increased strength and power. Johnson, who was listed at 196 pounds a year ago, has added 12 pounds of muscle to his frame.
“He’s doing great,” Miami Coach Al Golden said of the Canes burner. “He’s got an edge about him. He’s got a focus about him that he’s continued since the spring.
“Physical, more durable, a stronger version of Duke Johnson — like 208 pounds … running his fastest 40[-yard dash time] as a Miami Hurricane.”
Johnson has impressed in fall drills alongside fellow running backs Gus Edwards, De’Andre Johnson, Joe Yearby and Trayone Gray.
The UM junior said he feels good and he continues to have that burst to run away from opposing defenders.
“I actually feel that I am faster than I was last year with the extra weight,” Johnson said. “[Strength and conditioning] Coach [Andreu] Swasey and his staff did a great job of helping me put the weight on, but put in on the right way.
“I’m very excited. This could be a season that I’ve been waiting for.”
Johnson played in eight games in 2013, rushing for 920 yards and six touchdowns before the injury. Prior to the FSU game, and Johnson going down, the Hurricanes had rattled off seven consecutive victories to start the season. For his efforts, he was named second-team All-ACC by the league’s coaches.
In 2012, Johnson rushed for a freshman-record 947 yards and 10 TDs. He set the UM single-season record with 892 kick return yards and two more touchdowns. He amassed 2,060 all-purpose yards — the second-most in school history — on the way to being named a second-team All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation and a third-team All-American by CBSSports.com.
Johnson said that his recovery and then summer training went perfectly to plan. “My ankle feels fine. I’m 100 percent,” Johnson said. “I have been cleared for 2 1/2 months now.”
“He is a freak of nature,” sophomore linebacker Walter Tucker said of lining up against Johnson. “He is really good.”
Johnson says his goals are to “stay healthy and help my team any way I can.”
And Golden plans to get Johnson the ball any way he can.
The Canes’ offensive braintrust has put in plays to get Johnson more involved in the passing game in hopes of getting No. 8 in open space more often.
“He’s a different person right now,” Golden said. “He’s stronger, he’s more durable, he’s in great condition. He’s got a lot of guys around him that can help him carry the load.
“The biggest thing is we all want to see him pick up where he left off. He was pressing his runs, they were hitting where they were designed to hit. So, he had great discipline at the end of last year.”
Johnson and the Canes will have the day off Tuesday before holding their first scrimmage Wednesday.
Miami’s season opener is Labor Day night at Louisville in an ESPN 8 o’clock start.
– Pat Lammer